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Pentagon awards $415 million contract for units to decontaminate N95 masks

Posted April 13, 2020 5:46 p.m. EDT

— The Pentagon announced a major contract for 60 decontamination units that will allow millions of N95 masks to be reused amid a shortage of personal protective equipment for medical professionals treating coronavirus patients.

The $415 million contract will allow for the acquisition of "60 Battelle Memorial Institute Critical Care Decontamination Systems (CCDS), that can decontaminate up to 80,000 used N95 respirators per system per day, enabling mask reuse up to 20 times," according to a statement from the Pentagon.

The Defense Department said six units have already been delivered to multiple US cities including two to New York, and one each to Columbus, Ohio, Boston, Chicago and Tacoma, "providing the ability to sterilize 3.4 million masks a week, reducing the need for new masks by the same number."

"All 60 systems will be available by early May for prioritization and distribution by FEMA and HHS. Once all are delivered, these 60 units will allow 4.8 million masks to be sterilized per day, almost 34 million per week," the statement added.

Where the remaining units will be delivered has yet to be determined.

The shortage of N95 masks has been a major focus of Defense Department efforts.

On Saturday, the Pentagon announced its first project under the authorities granted by the Defense Production Act, a $133 million project to produce more than 39 million N95 masks.

The Defense Department previously pledged 10 million masks from its own stockpile to bolster civilian medical agencies.

The absence of large numbers of N95 respirator masks in the stockpiles of civilian hospitals has been seen by some as emblematic of the lack of preparedness for the pandemic.

Frontline hospital workers in New York and Boston have told CNN that they are concerned about the lack of the masks and have described current efforts to reuse masks and extend their life amid the ongoing crisis.

Numerous medical workers have contracted the virus in the course of treating patients and getting them adequate protection has been seen as a priority.

Lewis Von Thaer, Battelle's CEO, told CNN last week that the company's machine, which extends the use of N95 masks has been fast tracked by the US Food and Drug Administration and is ready to deploy to states as early as this week.

"We proved that we could reuse these masks, basically decontaminate them for reuse up to 20 times with no degradation," he said on CNN International's "First Move." "This has been a team effort not just from our team but the FDA, our local politicians and others have helped because of the emergency. And everyone just came together to do this as quickly as possible."

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